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Mike Pence lambasts Trump for the attack on the Capitol as he launches his campaign

The former vice president claims his boss at the time made him choose between him and the Constitution

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Mike Pence during a pre-campaign event last month in Des Moines (Iowa).Charlie Neibergall (AP)
Miguel Jiménez

Something is missing from Mike Pence’s campaign launch video for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election. Someone, actually. Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, his political enemies, are in the recording. Two former presidents also appear: Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, whom he lauds as examples. And, of course, throughout the video there’s a review of his political career, which even includes images of Pence with Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin. But the one person who does not appear in the two minutes and 44 seconds is his former boss during his time as vice president: Donald Trump. However, at his first campaign rally, in Des Moines, Iowa, he spared no ammunition on his former boss, attacking him for the January 6, 2020 attack on the Capitol.

“Jan. 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation. But thanks to the courage of law enforcement, the violence was quelled, we reconvened the Congress. The very same day, President Trump’s reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol,” Pence said.

And he continued, arguing that Trump encouraged the mob that stormed the Capitol and then falsely asserted that Pence himself had the power to overturn the election result; putting in him in direct danger at the time as the crowd targeted Pence directly. “But the American people deserve to know that on that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the constitution,” he said. “Now, voters will be faced with the same choice: I chose the constitution and I always will.”

Apart from these accusations, Pence added that Trump’s actions on 6 January should disqualify him from returning to power. “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the constitution should never be president of the United States... And anyone who asked someone else to put them over the constitution should never be president of the United States again.”

He also distanced himself from Trump regarding the issue of abortion. “After leading the most pro-life administration in American history, Donald Trump and others in this race are retreating from the cause of the unborn. The sanctity of life has been our party’s calling for half a century — long before Donald Trump was a part of it. Now he treats it as an inconvenience, even blaming our election losses in 2022 on overturning Roe v. Wade,” exploiting the fact that Trump has avoided commenting on the issue.

Pence has launched his campaign on his 64th birthday. It is the first time that a former vice president has run against his former boss for his party’s nomination. It is also not common that a defeated candidate, such as Trump, tries again in the next election.

Pence officially registered his candidacy on Monday when he filed the necessary paperwork, and the former vice president was already expected to officially launch his platform on Wednesday with a video, an event in Des Moines (Iowa) and a town hall on CNN. Pence has actually been campaigning for weeks in Iowa, the first state where he will face the rest of the Republican candidates in a very crowded nomination race in which the big favorite is former president Donald Trump followed by the emerging alternative, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The only GOP candidate who has gone straight for Trump’s jugular so far has been Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, who entered the race on Tuesday saying that “a lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog” such as the former president cannot be “a leader.” The rest of the candidates seem to be trying to keep a delicate balance between not upsetting the Republican base — which remains mostly Trumpist — and making them see that the former president is less likely to be elected to the White House if he wins the Republican nomination.

However, as the campaign progresses, the attacks and criticisms against Trump are becoming more frequent. DeSantis avoided them altogether the day he launched his candidacy, but since then his tone has changed, and he’s become more openly critical of the former president.

For Pence, striking that balance is particularly difficult. Once a loyal vice president — who was willing to stay in the background, to support his boss and avoid criticizing him despite the major blunders of his presidency —Pence stood up to Trump in 2020 and refused to participate in Trump’s efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, which Joe Biden won by a large majority (306 to 232 electoral votes and a seven million votes difference).

Pence was a front-row witness to the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. He refused to heed Trump’s call to stall the certification of Biden’s victory in Congress that day — a refusal that earned him the ire of his one-time boss and his supporters. The mob chanted “let’s hang Mike Pence” as they forced their way into the Capitol. Over two years later, a good portion of Trump’s supporters have yet to forgive the former vice president for his decisions that day. “It would be easy to stay on the sidelines. But that’s not how I was raised. That’s why today before God and my family, I’m announcing I’m running for President of the United States,” Pence says in his campaign video.

While he chose to ignore Trump altogether, Pence attacks Biden directly in his campaign launch: “Today, our country’s in a lot of trouble. President Joe Biden and the radical left have weakened America at home and abroad. The American dream is being crushed under runaway inflation. Wages are dropping, recession is looming. Our southern border is under siege, and the enemies of freedom are on the march around the world. And we’re still. Timeless American values are under assault as never before. We’re better than this. We can turn this country around, but different times call for different leadership. Today our party and our country need a leader that’ll appeal, as Lincoln said, to the better angels of our nature.”

“We can bring this country back. We can defend our nation and secure our border. We can revive our economy and put our nation back on a path to a balanced budget, defend our liberties, and give America a new beginning for life,” he continues in the video.

Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota, also registered his candidacy on Wednesday and has begun soliciting campaign contributions. Candidates need to raise 40,000 donors to be eligible for the party’s August 23 debate. In addition to the aforementioned Pence, Trump, DeSantis and Christie, the other Republican candidates currently in the race for president include the former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley; the only black Republican senator, Tim Scott; the former governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchison; billionaire biotech entrepreneur and scourge of what he calls the “woke ideology” Vivek Ramaswamy; fellow entrepreneur Perry Johnson; political commentator Larry Elder; and politician and businessman Rollan Roberts, son of the West Virginia senator of the same name.

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